From the National Day Calendar:
Every June 5th is National Moonshine Day which recognizes a beverage with a notorious record of blurring the lines of history and the law, turning ordinary men (and women) into criminals and common criminals into legends.
Moonshine traditionally is an illegally distilled spirit. Mostly made from a corn mash, moonshine is a distilled whiskey that is typically produced by an individual illegally without a permit. Also known as white lightning, mountain dew, homebrew, hillbilly pop, rotgut, and too many more to list here.
Distilling skills first came to the United States with the Scotch-Irish as they settled in Virginia.
Temperance laws and prohibition legislation were passed in several states before the Civil War, but it wasn’t until the turn of the century that the temperance movement picked up steam. By the time the 18th Amendment was ratified early in 1919, over half the country was dry.
Prohibition lasted 13 years. It created a demand for moonshine, unlike any that may have existed before. Moonshine became big business overnight.
These days, moonshine in the legal sense has a following. Small-batch distilleries are producing legal moonshine giving moonshiners a new name. Bringing moonshine out of the woods and going up against other whiskeys for a place on the shelf. Many are packaging their homebrews in canning jars, embracing their rich history while at the same time experimenting with flavor and branching out with food pairing similar to that of wine and beer.
I first became familiar with moonshine when I started watching the Dukes of Hazzard. Uncle Jesse and Boss Hogg were old moonshining buddies before becoming “enemies.”
From the show I learned that it was alcohol and illegal. Moonshine always seemed to come in a jug marked with X’s. Here’s a little fact I learned while researching this blog:
The X’s on the moonshine jugs represent the number of times a batch was run through the still. If marked XXX, the moonshine is pure alcohol.
My Moonshine Experience
When I worked in Country Radio, I got to go to a lot of concerts. I almost always got to go back stage and meet the artists because we usually had things for them to autograph for charity auctions.
I was backstage at a Montgomery Gentry concert. We had finished the traditional Meet & Greet and I was heading back to my seat. The record rep called to me and asked me to hang backstage. We went and hung out with the guys on their bus. They had a cooler/fridge loaded with beer and alcoholic beverages.
When the guys got up on stage, we were all still hanging on their bus. By now, the opening act (I can’t recall who it was) had joined us on the bus. That’s when the mason jar came out.
They began to pass this jar around. The liquid inside was a brownish color and there was some kind of fruit in the bottom of it. The record guy asked me, “Ever had moonshine?” I assured him I hadn’t and he passed me the jar. I didn’t know what to expect.
It was obviously home made and it burned like nothing I had ever experienced as I swallowed it. It was SO strong and it tasted like turpentine (not that I have ever tasted that before). It was probably the nastiest stuff I have ever tasted. These guys were passing it around and swigging it like it was milk or something. I was lucky enough to only have to take one more sip, before passing it to my right. Every time it circled back to me, I’d just keep passing it and no one noticed.
A couple years ago, we were at a party where a friend had made “Apple Pie” moonshine. This was actually very good and truly tasted like a piece of apple pie!
I guess moonshine is sort of a “novelty” drink now as you can go to the store and find various flavors of it in the aisle with beer and wine. I’m going to guess that these are a whole lot milder than the stuff I had on that bus!